Article updated Feb 2012.
Drive modes control how often an image is taken. There are five main modes: single shot, continuous shooting, self-timer, mirror up and multiple exposure.
This is the mode you'll use most often and quite simply it takes one shot: you press the shutter button and your image will be captured, shutter recocked ready for the next shot. It's the mode you'll probably use most of the time as it will work for capturing everything from portraits indoors to landscapes.
Photo by Peter Bargh.
In this mode you hold your finger down on the shutter button and your camera (depending on type and model) will take a continuous burst of images. The number of shots per second that can be captured depends on the camera. A top professional DSLR will do 8 or more framers per second. The Nikon 1
, for example, can deliver full-resolution images at up to 60 frames per second. When you want to focus tightly on one subject the camera can track them and capture full-resolution images at 10 frames per second.
This mode is great for capturing a moving vehicle, a dog running (especially when panning) or even for creating a series of portraits that would look great as a triptych. It can take a while for your camera to process all of the shots so do be patient after you've captured the action.
Photo by Daniel Bell.
This is something that allows the shutter button to be pressed without a photograph been taken straight away. It's commonly used so you, the photographer, can feature in the picture, but the self-timer can also be used to stop camera shake. When you press the shutter button you always shake the camera to some degree and this isn't good when you're taking photographs in low light as you'll often end up with a blurred image. By using the self-timer you can press the shutter button, step back and take an image with shake nowhere in sight.
Photo by Peter Bargh.
Left: Shot taken without using the self-timer. Right: Self-timer was used and the shot is sharper.
In an SLR-type camera the mirror flips up, the shutter opens and when it closes the mirror comes back down. But this process can cause slight vibrations and as we've already found out this isn't good when working in low light or taking a photograph that takes a long time to be ready (exposed). Locking the mirror up will stop this slight vibration introducing shake to your shot.
This is the process of taking more than one image but on the same frame. You take the first image and instead of it moving onto your memory card it stays where it is and your second image is taken and set onto of the first image. Here the two images bind to create one image. This technique can be used to create some unusual images. Not all cameras have this feature but you can create the same effect with various single shots which you combine together in software such as Photoshop.
Do take a good look at the preview of your shot when producing multiple exposures in-camera as you can get ghosting in your shot. This can be seen in the shot to the right where there's two flags overlaid when really there should just be the one. This has happened because the flag was blowing in the wind and the movement meant it was in two different places for the two exposures hence two flags appearing in the shot. If the flag stayed still, as the buildings in the background of the shot show, there wouldn't be two of them in frame.
Simple backgrounds where objects are still are easier to work with and using a tripod id advised as even the smallest of movements can mean your shots won't line up correctly when merged together and by using a tripod you're less likely to move the camera.
Left: Two images combined in Photoshop. Right: The same effect but this time created in-camera.